Eye movement includes the voluntary or involuntary movement of the eyes, helping in acquiring, fixating and tracking visual stimuli. A special type of eye movement, rapid eye movement, occurs during REM sleep.
The eyes are the visual organs of the human body, and move using a system of six muscles. The retina, a specialised type of tissue containing photoreceptors, senses light. These specialised cells convert light into electrochemical signals. These signals travel along the optic nerve fibers to the brain, where they are interpreted as vision in the visual cortex.
Primates and many other vertebrates use three types of voluntary eye movement to track objects of interest: smooth pursuit, vergence shifts and saccades.These types of movements appear to be initiated by a small cortical region in the brain's frontal lobe. This is corroborated by removal of the frontal lobe. In this case, the reflexes (such as reflex shifting the eyes to a moving light) are intact, though the voluntary control is obliterated.
Six extraocular muscles facilitate eye movement. These muscles arise from the common tendinous ring in the orbit, the eye cavity, and attach to the eyeball. The six muscles are the lateral, medial, inferior and superior rectus muscles, and the inferior and superior oblique muscles. The muscles, when contracting, cause movement of the eyeball, by pulling the eyeball towards the muscle. For example, the lateral rectus is on the lateral side of the eyeball. When it contracts, the eyeball moves so that the pupil looks outwards. The medial rectus causes the eyeball to look inwards; the inferior rectus downwards and the superior rectus upwards. The superior oblique muscle and inferior oblique muscle attach at angles to the eyeball.
Three antagonistic pairs of muscles control eye movement: the lateral and medial rectus muscles, the superior and inferior rectus muscles, and the superior and inferior oblique muscles. These muscles are responsible for movement of the eye along three different axes: horizontal, either toward the nose (adduction) or away from the nose (abduction); vertical, either elevation or depression; and torsional, movements that bring the top of the eye toward the nose (intorsion) or away from the nose (extorsion). Horizontal movement is controlled entirely by the medial and lateral rectus muscles; the medial rectus muscle is responsible for adduction, the lateral rectus muscle for abduction. Vertical movement requires the coordinated action of the superior and inferior rectus muscles, as well as the oblique muscles. The relative contribution of the rectus and oblique groups depends on the horizontal position of the eye. In the primary position (eyes straight ahead), both of these groups contribute to vertical movement. Elevation is due to the action of the superior rectus and inferior oblique muscles, while depression is due to the action of the inferior rectus and superior oblique muscles. When the eye is abducted, the rectus muscles are the prime vertical movers. Elevation is due to the action of the superior rectus, and depression is due to the action of the inferior rectus. When the eye is adducted, the oblique muscles are the prime vertical movers. Elevation is due to the action of the inferior oblique muscle, while depression is due to the action of the superior oblique muscle. The oblique muscles are also primarily responsible for torsional movement.
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Journal of optometry : open access